Trials with Telstra (Opinion)

Divorce Telstra

A few weeks ago I made the mistake of saying “yes” to the helpful, personable lady on the phone. She was from Telstra, and she was calling to help. The most recent consequence of that was the total loss of Internet for a couple of hours, solved only by the further loss of 45 minutes on the phone. And that’s only the most recent.

Before I start, let me confess. A couple of years ago someone somewhere somehow got ahold of one of my credit card numbers. The first I knew was when my balance seemed low. I spotted a purchase from Vodafone. I am not, and never have been, a customer of Vodafone. So I rang up Vodafone and tried to find out why they’d charged my card. All I could get was a curt “Fill in the online form”.

So I put out feelers to my fellow tech writers, got a PR contact for Vodafone and sent an email. Within a couple of hours, I had a phone call from Vodafone’s “Executive Resolution Team”, and matters were well on the way to being fixed. It was like flying somewhere in First Class.

And I resolved never to pull strings again unless something truly vital was on the line. I like to see myself as an experienced and knowledgeable consumer, sharing my experiences with readers. I can’t do that with special treatment.

So when I had a problem with Telstra, it was purely as a customer, and I went through it as any customer would.

Fine Telstra service (unironically)

I’ve been an @Telstra customer for 38 years. I’m not a fussy customer, and it has mostly been good. There was that time a couple of years ago when my Internet disappeared. It turned out that someone had cut the connection to my house … on the inside of the service pole up the street. How odd is that?

Yes, Telstra costs more than the competition, but better mobile coverage and this and that and general inertia has kept me from exploring options.

(As always, is the competition any better? How about that weird additional charge by Optus earlier this year on my pre-paid backup phone?)

Anyway, every so often Telstra rings up to make sure I’m happy with my service. That’s why the helpful, personable lady from Telstra rang me three weeks ago.

We rejigged my broadband bundle. I was on an unlimited plan (data-wise that is; my anaemic speed has been the same lousy 6Mbps for a dozen years). It turns out that I rarely go much above 100GB per month. We changed that, making a $29 per month saving. Now that was welcome.

My main mobile is post-paid on the same monthly bill. All I wanted was more data. It turns out that by changing my mobile plan from $50 to $59, I could have ten times the data. I went from 2.5GB to 25GB per month.

The overall result: a more useful service for $20 a month less. Nice.

Then comes the letter


But nine days later I got a letter (on paper, in the mail). “My order,” it called itself, “On a new kind of network”. It explained that my phone was now on the “Business Casual Mobile Plan S” at $49 per month. Hurrah! Cheaper than I thought!

Oh, what’s that? 2GB of data? Not 25GB? Ugghh!


I should have known something was up. The previous week I had received three SMS from Telstra. The first told me my Telstra message bank was now enabled. But I already had that. The second that International Roaming was now enabled. Why? I usually keep it switched off, just in case. The third was a repeat of the first. Something was going on with my mobile contract.

So with that letter in hand, saying that I have only 8% of the data I thought I had, I rang Telstra. I spoke to another helpful, personable lady who was as puzzled as me. Especially as it appeared that my mobile number had been cancelled.

That’s the phone number that I’ve had for 22 years. It’s a thing dear to me and well known to my family.

Fortunately, it was still working, as evidenced by the fact I was talking on that phone to Telstra. Eventually, she found that it was now a sole business trader number rather than a personal one. Apparently they are different things.

They are certainly handled by different areas of Telstra.

Business vs Pleasure

She introduced me to another helpful, personable lady who confirmed that I was indeed on a $59, 15GB (+10GB bonus) plan with Telstra. The letter? No idea why that had come.

But since I was now on a business plan for my mobile, I’d have a separate account for it. Rather than the combined landline/broadband/mobile account I’ve had forever, Telstra will henceforth bill me separately for mobile and broadband.

I asked her to try to combine the two, and we left it there. That was 45 minutes on the phone to Telstra. Fun. I guess.

I tweeted the story. @Telstra was monitoring for mentions. Someone at customer service was “so sorry to hear of this alteration to your account not being what was advised, and the long phone call”.

A couple of days later another letter came via snail-mail. “My order,” it called itself, “On a new kind of network”. But this time it was the right price and the right amount of data (sort of, it didn’t mention the 10GB bonus).



And that was the end of it. Well, the end of Part 1. Part 2 started yesterday. But this time it was my broadband service.

Broken link

I did a little work yesterday morning before having to go out. A couple of hours later I’m back and find no broadband Internet on my desktop. Nor on the Surface Pro. Nor on the mobile when it was connected to my Wi-Fi. I rebooted the modem/router.

Lucky I had that 25GB of data on my phone now. I used it as a Wi-Fi access point for the Surface Pro. I googled the website to troubleshoot my broadband connection and followed its steps. Everything was fine, except that the line quality was so-so. Then it wanted to reboot my modem. I’d already done that, but sure, why not? I was interested to see if Telstra really could remotely reboot my modem. It didn’t work, of course. It wasn’t until a couple of steps later that it actually asked what kind of modem I had.

I chose “other”, then selected “D-Link” from the list. At which point it advised that it could talk through the steps for a Telstra modem, so I could try to follow those. But I should look in my modem manual. Fair enough. Telstra can’t support all equipment.

But it did also say: “Only modems that have been tested and approved by Telstra may be used. See the full list of Certified modems.” That got me wondering. Is the D-Link Cobra Telstra-certified? I clicked that link and was taken to not to any list of modems, but to an answer to the question: “Do I need a technician to set up my broadband?”


I still don’t know if the Cobra is Telstra approved.

Finding the right number

While I was out an email had come in from “tbb-oot”. Apparently that’s Telstra Business. The heading was “Telstra Business Broadband BizEssentials Order Completion”.

Pennies started to drop. Could it be that my broadband had also gone from personal to business? Could Telstra have changed my user ID and password?

I should have realised something was up with that too. A few days before that troubling letter about my mobile plan, a parcel arrived at home. It turned out to be a new Telstra -branded modem router. With a 4GX stick to get me going while waiting for connection. Later that day an SMS from Telstra: my equipment has been despatched.

So I searched my email for Telstra emails in the past few weeks, looking for one that might give me new information. Nup, nothing there. But how about that BizEssentials email? It has some kind of account ID. Indeed, it gave an account number, and something called an “FNN”. And it said I could log into my account with those “and this initial password”. That was followed by a blank line. Then paragraphs of instructions on how to change that password. That is, the password that wasn’t there.


I fortified myself with another cup of coffee and looked for a telephone number to call. Well, the one mentioned in that email seemed pretty clear: “If you have any questions about this order or delivery of your new modem (if ordered), please contact us on 132 253.”


Wrong number

I called. I selected option 5, tech support. Then a robot answered, asked me to identify the line with the problem and asked me to say what the problem was.

And then announced that it was sending a troubleshooting link to my mobile phone via SMS, and was hanging up!

Seriously. It said that it would disconnect. And then it said it was disconnecting. Seriously.

I sat there for a while, holding the phone in disbelief. I’d already gone as far as I could with the online troubleshooting tool. The system hadn’t even asked me if I’d tried it.

But then the robot came back on the line and said it would connect me to tech support. It’s weird. I felt almost thankful, until I remembered how ridiculous all this was. Four minutes until someone would be available, it said.

Seemed longer to me, but eventually a helpful, personable lady came on the line and asked me the problem. I managed to convince her that I’d already rebooted the modem, etc. I offered the theory that perhaps this account had been switched over to business and the credentials had changed. She was able to confirm that was the issue. But she couldn’t fix it herself. You see, somehow, even though I’d called on the number given on the BizEssentials plan letter, I was talking to Bigpond tech support for personal broadband plans.

Business, not pleasure

However, she was able to explain my situation to another helpful, personable lady to whom she passed me.

She told me my new username and password and hung on while I entered the new details into the router/modem (she seemed surprised that I know how to log onto it). Fumbled fingered fellow that I am, I stuck in an extra character in the user name. It turns out that they could see it at that end. But, finally, corrected user name and modem reboot later and … nothing.

The line was connected she could see, but something was going wrong anyway. Was there a security camera connected to the modem? Well, yes, but only by Wi-Fi. Well, we may have to factory reset the router/modem. I groaned. That would inevitably involve a downstream list of configuration changes which I’d discover as stuff failed to work.

But just as I was searching the router/modem settings to see if I could do the reset remotely, it connected. I had Internet. That was another 45 minutes on the phone.

A closing loop

When you call Telstra, they finish by asking if you’d like to participate in a short survey. With a sense of relief, I agreed.

“Was your problem resolved?” asked the robot. Why yes it was. I pressed “1”. “How likely are you to recommend Telstra to someone else? Choose on a scale of 1 to 10”. I chose “7”. Then it asked why. I explained that the customer service officer had been excellent, but that the problem should never have arisen in the first place. Feeling nicely community spirited, I waited for a moment. The robot acknowledged me with a thank you and I waited for it to hang up.

Then it asked me, “Was your problem resolved?” I pressed “1”. “How likely …” I chose “4” and explained that I was unimpressed by a system that looped back when it was supposed to finish. I was thanked and then …

“Was your problem resolved?” That time I gave it a “1” (out of 10) for recommending Telstra. After I explained why the system finally hung up.


At this point, a writer summarises what went before, and perhaps even draws a conclusion. Me? I’m too exhausted by the whole thing.